Million-View YouTuber Matt Colbo: What’s the deal with French Numbers?

6 Jan, 2020

How do you get 30 million views for a single video and what do you do next? These are two of the questions we had for the comedian behind the video of an NYC Cabbie ranting about French numbers. He told us the story behind the video, about what it feels like going viral, and the courage it takes to choose YouTube as a career.

By Karlo Krznaric

A man in an NYC cab. French music in the background. A quick witted and truly annoyed guy explains the preposterous way of counting in French. The guy’s name is Matt Colbo, a YouTuber from Newfoundland, Canada. His video gained over 30 million views across platforms and channels. 

Matt, an athletic and “random funny guy, but hopefully not to a point of annoyance” started making videos in high school. “In Newfoundland, everyone knew me as an athlete because I played multiple sports. But then I started making funny videos on Instagram.” His first ‘target audience was very specific – his friends. Soon other people started discovering him, which felt weird, but also showed there was interest in what he was doing. That’s when he started posting to YouTube. After fourteen videos that usually had between 2 and 5,000 views, he struck pure gold. “Counting to 100 in French with a NYC Cabbie” went viral. 

“I was dating  a girl who was bilingual. I know a bit of French, so I started ripping off jokes about how the number system works. She was laughing a lot, so I realized ‘Oh shit, this is actually funny.’ Later I put on a New York accent and she loved it even more. I called, no texted – I’m not a hundred years old – my cameraman, ‘You gotta be here tomorrow, we gotta film this.’”

The next day they got into Colbo’s car and filmed for 20 minutes with no script. 

“I came home and did a rough edit of it that I was about to put online. There were no subtitles, no sound effects, no nothing. Then I was like, ‘You know what, I can make this a little better.’ So, I cancelled the upload and edited it for another hour and a half or so, and put all the sound effects and the numbers and all that stuff in. I think that really made the video as it made it more engaging instead of me just talking in a car.”

In the first couple of hours, French Numbers got more views than all his previous videos combined. In two days, it had almost 100k views. “It felt like a movie. I started getting emails from people asking to use my video – Bored Panda, Unilad, a few French distributors – and I was like ‘Yep, yep. Take it, I don’t care.’ And all of a sudden there’s ten million views. And then there’s another ten.” The video was also shared on 9GAG. They tagged Colbo’s Instagram page and (literally) over night he went from 2k to 5.5k followers. By the end of the day, he had over 9k. 

However, Matt can’t really explain why the video performed so much better than the other ones. “It’s incredibly uncertain, and it takes a lot of luck. The video hit some sort of algorithm and took off, and that’s why we’re having this interview right now, because of that silly idea I had. That’s just the way it is.” 

The natural question is where did things go from there? He admits that with this growth, a lot of pressure came along. He was trying to tie in with the growth he got so quickly from this video. Replicating this success with his next videos didn’t seem to work. “It took months for me to realize that this is not what I should be doing. I should be making things because I want to, not look for a ridiculous boost in millions of views.” He says it was even a bit unfortunate that this happened so early in his path – because his other content was not yet good enough to convert those views to subscribers.

So, is Matt Colbo swimming in money? Through YouTube’s ad-money revenue share he makes more on French Numbers than all his other videos combined, but he still can’t make a living with his content. He got a degree in psychology in 2019 and decided to completely focus on his YouTube channel now. It’s not a classic career move. Colbo says: “My friends understand me and they’re very supportive, but when some older people see me in public and ask what I’m doing now, my answer is always ‘Oh, I’m just taking a year off to figure it out.’ It’s not really a lie, but its’s hard to say, ‘I’m a full-time YouTuber’, cause they would think, ‘You had so much going for you, and now you’re throwing it all away. Wow, well done.’ It’s like you need to have a real job, and I hate that so much.”

And, like every creator, he can’t help comparing himself to others:  

“What gets pushed online are the overnight successes of the people who dropped out of college to start a multi-million company, or the people who got two million subscribers in six months. Seeing that actually turns many people away. You start thinking, ‘Well, I didn’t get that in six months, I should give up’. But it’s such a low percentage of people who actually achieve that. For a lot of people, it takes years to get through. I was like ‘I want to be the guy to get there the quickest’, and that’s a terrible way to think. You have to think about the people who took a long time to get to where they are. So, don’t worry about taking your time. Just enjoy the process! Stop thinking about it and just start somewhere.”

To show his dedication, Matt even publicly pledged (or got carried away) in one of his latest videos to publish a new video every single Saturday in 2020! 

As for us Smartlikers, we believe Matt’s success was no accident. The platform mechanics may have pushed it in the beginning, but combined 30 million views didn’t come from algorithms, but from the numerous people whose day was made by Matt’s brilliant humour. It’s only a matter of time and patience when millions will be laughing at every Matt’s video. It’s not the algorithms that count, it’s great content that counts.

Check out more of Matt’s videos and don’t forget to subscribe:

Karlo Krznaric

Karlo is a public speaking and communication coach and author of the book "Joy of Public Speaking". He is also the master of ceremony at Smartlike